Yet the miraculous thing about this game – a game that’s a hair’s breadth away from being an absolutely disastrous self-indulgent mess – is that a compelling fiction still emerges, and along with it some even more compelling gameplay. A huge part of the pleasure of MGS4, provided you’re an aficionado, lies in seeing how the whole Snake saga finally plays out, and in getting closer to our mysterious gravel-voiced hero than we have ever come before. This is an older, wiser, sadder and more vulnerable Snake; a man much better at making enemies than keeping friends, and a man who’s coming to terms with the fact that he’s a genetically engineered freak who is coming to the end of his lifespan.
And the more you play, the more you realise what a great and iconic cast of characters Konami has built up over the years, with so much more personality than you’d even find in Resident Evil – probably the only game series that bears comparison. It turns out that you’re glad to see these people one more time – from the tough beauty, Meryl, to the villainous Liquid Ocelot and the creepy, kinky Vamp. Even the much disliked Raiden gets his chance to shine. Does the plot really make any narrative or intellectual sense? No, not really. It’s too fragmented, too scattergun and too flimsy. But does it make an emotional sense? Yes. The more you play, the more it does.
The gameplay, meanwhile, is a mix of new delights and old frustrations. For a start we get some cool new toys. The Mk.II Metal Gear is a great idea; a little droid you can send in to scope out enemy positions, like a land-based version of the drones in GRAW. Meanwhile, the Solid Eye – a sort of vision-enhancing eye-patch – cleverly combines radar, night-vision, tracking and radar capabilities. The Octocamo suit, however, is the game’s signature gimmick – a cool, nanotech camouflage suit that, should you stand or lie still long enough, automatically blends to capture the textures and shadows of your surroundings. In effect, this blends the camouflage-based stealth of MGS3 with the more environmental approach of MGS2 quite brilliantly, and the game runs with it, rarely constraining the player to rooms and corridors like MGS2 did, but with the open spaces feeling more cleverly structured and less artificially limited than they did in MGS3. The fact that the first setting is a city helps, with plenty of alleys to skulk around, rooftops to climb up to and open buildings to sneak into. Yet even when the game heads out for more open territory, it still feels more assured than MGS3.